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Abruptly Transitioning an In-Person Hands-on Prototyping Course to Fully Online Instruction: The Creative Tension Between Maintaining a Positive Experience and Achieving Learning Outcomes

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Engineering Design Graphics Division Technical Session 4: A Potpourri of Ideas

Tagged Division

Engineering Design Graphics

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Paper Authors


Adulfo Amador Rice University

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Undergraduate student

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Matthew Wettergreen Rice University Orcid 16x16

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Matthew Wettergreen was appointed director of the department's Master's of Bioengineering Global Medical Innovation program in 2020. He is also an Associate Teaching Professor at the award-winning Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen at Rice University, recruited as the first faculty hire in 2013.

Wettergreen co-developed six of the seven engineering design courses in the design curriculum at the OEDK, including the flagship first-year engineering design and Prototyping and Fabrication course. This practical hands-on course increases student proficiency in the development of prototypes using low fidelity prototyping, iterative design, and advanced manufacturing tools. Dr. Wettergreen’s efforts to scaffold prototyping into all of the OEDK’s design courses were recognized with Rice’s Teaching Award for Excellence in Inquiry-Based Learning. In 2017, four faculty members, including Wettergreen, combined the engineering design courses at the OEDK to create the first engineering design minor in the US, credentialing students for a course of study in engineering design, teamwork, prototyping, and client-based projects.

Wettergreen has over ten years of experience teaching client-based engineering design courses, and a deep interest in engineering education, specifically curriculum that can be employed to build capacity for student development in makerspaces. Building off of this interest, he has taught and mentored faculty in Brazil, Malawi, and Tanzania to launch makerspaces and work with institutions to develop engineering design curriculum. Dr. Wettergreen is the faculty mentor for Rice’s Design for America chapter, for which he has been given the Hudspeth Award for excellence in student club mentoring.

Wettergreen is also a designer of consumer products under Data Design Co, and of a number of academic products that improve students prototyping techniques, including a low fidelity prototyping cart and the Laser Cutter Prototyping Library. His design work has been featured on the cover of NASA Tech Briefs and in the pages of the Wall Street Journal, Make Magazine, Atlantic Monthly and Texas Monthly.

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This report details the result of shifting an in-person prototyping and fabrication class to fully online, mid-semester, in the face of the COVID pandemic. During any normal semester, in this class students work individually and in pairs to gain proficiency on tools and processes in the university design prototyping space. Students learn the following: hand/power tools, sewing, 2D drawing, laser cutting, water jet cutting, plasma cutting, 3D printing, CNC machining, and molding/casting. Homework products are the result of practicing those tools or skills to produce a physical artifact, like a CNC machined piece, or a laser cut box. Instruction in this course is two-pronged, first to teach the students to be competent operators of the tool, and second to help them to exercise technique or skill in the usage of that skill to produce these artifacts. The learning outcomes of the course follow this instruction and state that the students should gain functional proficiency. Therefore the CNC machined piece should be produced with the correct settings and post-processed accordingly, and the laser cut box should have finger joints that fit together tightly with the correct tolerances.

In the spring, when classes moved online, this course was challenged to execute a hard pivot to meet learning outcomes while students were no longer in person. Typically, classes that have a physical making component have struggled to offer alternatives to those assignments when classes are delivered without the use of an in-person makerspace. We shifted our homework deliverables to accommodate the new normal of online education only by leaning on the many digital tools that are available to students. The students designed work and it was then produced by the instructor and tested based on a criterion set for the homework. The best example of this transition was in the conversion of the laser cutter assignment from the traditional “produce a laser cut box” to “produce a laser cut PPE mask.” Student versions were designed using 2D design tools and then cut with the laser cutter by the instructor. The resulting face shields were assembled (or attempted to be) and feedback was given to students who then revised the design for another round. The results of this study highlight how the shift of assignments from the late-process stage of making to the early-process stage of designing can conserve learning outcomes for students even when instruction is in a virtual environment and not in the native environment of the physical makerspace.

Amador, A., & Wettergreen, M. (2021, July), Abruptly Transitioning an In-Person Hands-on Prototyping Course to Fully Online Instruction: The Creative Tension Between Maintaining a Positive Experience and Achieving Learning Outcomes Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--36633

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